U.N. Secretary-General
Starting in 1946, the United Nations assigned its first Secretary-General while still in its infancy as an organization. His name was Trygve Lie from Norway, and there have been eight successors since; Antonio Guterres currently serving as U.N. Secretary-General.


The Role of a Secretary-General

The U.N. Charter, the foundational treaty of the U.N., describes the Secretary-General as “chief administrative officer” of the Organization, “who shall act in that capacity and perform ‘such other functions as are entrusted’ to him or her by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs.”

Overall, the U.N. Secretary-General is someone who is supposed to symbolize humanitarian ideals of equality and hold an interest for obtaining peace among nations.

On a day-to-day basis, the Secretary-General attends U.N. meetings, consults with world leaders and other state officials and must remain up-to-date on important international and national relations.

In times of crisis, the U.N. Secretary-General should take it upon his/herself to speak in front of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and rally support for action. This role requires the utmost responsibility to maintain international peace and security — if there are any conflicts occurring within or between borders that goes against human rights and international security, the Secretary-General must be aware and ready to rally support.


The Seventh Secretary-General

One man who truly upheld and set an example in his role as U.N. Secretary-General was Kofi Annan. Annan, born in Ghana, worked for many years with the U.N. before becoming Secretary-General in 1997.

Human dignity was central to Annan’s mission with the U.N. — he sought to advance human dignity in three predominant ways:

  1. He promoted human rights standards and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
  2. He worked through the U.N. institutions themselves to reform their machinery and ability to act (specifically by starting the Human Rights Council)
  3. He focused on zones of conflict to build U.N. operational efforts in needed locations

In the early 1990s, and prior to Annan’s entrance as a Secretary-General, the Cold War left the international field in a state of tension. In zones of conflict, such as during the Rwandan genocide, U.N. was seen in a negative light. Due to a lack of resources and a clear mandate for peacekeeping units to use force, the Rwandan genocide became known for its mass atrocities.


The Revolutionizing Ability of the Secretary-General

Annan had been Undersecretary-General at the time, and vowed to make positive changes starting in 1997; specifically, he wanted to make human rights a concept known and promoted for every member state. While the idea of protecting human rights was casually thrown around in the mid-late 20th Century, it was never fully given the attention it deserved.

During the World Summit in September 2005, all governments in attendance recognized the R2P and even gave it the nickname of being the “Annan doctrine” due to the intense lobbying the Secretary-General did during his years in office for human rights. The R2P meant that all governments within the U.N. clearly accepted their collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Never before had a Secretary-General put so much effort into humanitarian causes and the protection of birth right; but during Annan’s 10 years in office, U.N. peacekeeping grew both in terms of scale and efficacy. The governing body also increased the annual budget for U.N. peacekeeping from $1 billion in 1997 to $5 billion in 2006. Annan transformed not only the role of the U.N. and its member states, but positively impacted the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

director of unicef
U.S. businesswoman and former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, Henrietta Holsman Fore, became the seventh executive director of the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on January 1, 2018. Fore is replacing Anthony Lake as director, whose term began in 2010. The following are 10 facts about the new director of UNICEF.

  1. Fore was the first woman to hold the position of USAID administrator, which she served concurrently while being the director of U.S. Foreign Assistance from 2007 to 2009.
  2. Prior to her senior roles in the U.S. Department of State, Fore was the 37th director of the U.S. Mint. She initiated the 50 State Quarters Program and introduced laser engraving during her tenure.
  3. She was the chairman and CEO of her family’s investment and management company, Holsman International. She also was connected to at least 14 other companies, nonprofits and think tanks, according to her professional LinkedIn page, including the Aspen Institute, the Center for Global Development, General Mills and ExxonMobil.
  4. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced Fore’s appointment as executive director of UNICEF on December 22, 2017. The announcement received acclaim from multiple organizations, including the U.S. State Department and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  5. Fore was chosen by Guterres in consultation with the executive board of the U.N. The executive director position of UNICEF has gone to the U.S. candidate since the organization’s creation in 1947.
  6. Fore is committed to modernizing and revitalizing foreign assistance. In a 2008 keynote address to the Center for Global Development, she discussed reforming priorities to meet the most critical needs, promoting program coordination among agencies and increasing the number of U.S. foreign assistance personnel.
  7. To Chief Executives Organization, American diplomat John Negroponte said, “[Fore] likes to roll up her sleeves…she’s an incessant traveler.” In a speech at the 2014 International Financial Forum, Fore said she had traveled to countries such as Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Brazil and India.
  8. At the same forum, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Fore as, “one of the best appointments that I made,” and as, “one of the best public servants I’ve ever met.”
  9. Fore’s appointment aids Guterres’ mission for gender parity at U.N. senior leadership levels by 2021 and throughout the whole organization before 2030. Current findings suggest there is an inverse relationship between women’s representation and seniority at the U.N.
  10. As executive director of UNICEF, Fore will head one of the most important agencies within the U.N. The organization’s budget was $5 billion in 2017, the second largest of the U.N. agencies.

In his announcement, outgoing UNICEF director Anthony Lake said, “Henrietta Fore will bring a wealth of experience to UNICEF’s work for children.” Her appointment certainly excites individuals committed to ending global extreme poverty, and it will be compelling to witness what UNICEF accomplishes under Fore’s leadership.

– Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres of Portugal became Secretary-General of the U.N. on Jan. 1, 2017, following Ban Ki-moon.

If the name Antonio Guterres does not sound familiar, then these ten facts will be sure to provide a thorough education about the man who hopes to change the world we live in during his time serving as Secretary-General.

  1. Guterres grew up during an age of change in Portugal. Antonio Guterres’ childhood was mostly spent under the military dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. After the 1974 revolution, Guterres identified as a Portuguese socialist, witnessing change in the country’s government.
  2. According to the Guardian, Antonio Guterres was known as a “fearsome orator” during his time in Parliament, known to destroy his opponents’ arguments with clear and logical facts. Guterres later said his time in Parliament helped prepare him for the large speaking role that comes with being Secretary-General of the U.N.
  3. He is a family man. During his time as Prime Minister of Portugal, Guterres’ wife Luísa Guimarães e Melo became severely ill and had to receive treatment at a hospital in London. Despite working long hours in Portugal during the week, Guterres would fly to London on the weekends to spend time with his wife before returning bright and early Monday morning. On top of this enormous amount of stress, Guterres had two young children to look after and was known to spend a lot of time with them whenever he was home.
  4. He cared too much about his country to let it fall into a “political swamp.” After his party showed weakness and was in danger of a serious restructuring, Guterres resigned his position as Prime Minister, citing that even “politics has its limits.”
  5. He left national politics to focus on the world. After his resignation, Guterres spent time reflecting on what he wanted to do next. He knew that he “never wanted to return to national politics,” and eventually decided on making a difference in the world. He began doing so as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
  6. He is a champion for “people on the move.” Antonio Guterres made tremendous strides for refugees during his time as UNHCR, particularly in widening the scope of who the U.N. would help when it came to migrants and displaced people.
  7. His mission is social justice, equality and peace. In an opinion piece for Newsweek, Guterres writes, “As secretary-general of the U.N., I have called for a surge in diplomacy for peace and appealed for 2017 to be a year for peace. The U.N. was born from war. Today, we must be here for peace.” He seeks to achieve his goals on a global scale, and believes he can do so in the five years he has as Secretary-General.
  8. He is an avid reader. President of Refugees International Dr. Michel Gabaudan says that whenever Antonio Guterres visited Washington D.C., he would check out the bookstore Politics & Prose, spending whatever time he had searching for English books that were not easy to find in Europe.
  9. He supports women’s equality and wants to see a better representation of women in the U.N. “Generally, no one likes to lose positions they have long held,” Antonio Guterres shared on the floor of the U.N., “but the reality of gender parity is that many more women will be in positions that today are occupied by men. But that’s a good thing.”
  10. He is committed to people. Antonio Guterres’ policies as Prime Minister of Portugal and at UNHCR have been formed with people in mind, and he doesn’t intend to change this anytime soon. The U.N. must focus on “people rather than bureaucracy,” he writes in his Newsweek opinion article.

The next five years look bright under Antonio Guterres’ guidance. Hopefully, the U.N. will adapt to the world we live in today and ensure the future is peaceful and equal, just as the new Secretary-General is working hard to do.

Jacqueline Nicole Artz

Photo: Flickr

António Guterres, Former Head of UNHCR, Named New U.N. Secretary General
In early October, the 15 ambassadors that make up the U.N.’s Security Council were presented with the challenging decision of choosing a new secretary-general. The vote was characterized as the most important decision from the U.N. this year. In the end, António Guterres, the former socialist prime minister of Portugal, was nominated as the new U.N. secretary-general.

Guterres was favored for the position for many months leading up to the actual vote. He accepted the nomination from Lisbon after the Council’s decision and did so with “gratitude and humility.”

He will replace current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in January. Historically, the Security Council has been polarized in their decision-making, so the consensual conclusion to choose Guterres was met with his resounding agreement. Guterres described the decision as an “exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

The decision to choose António Guterres ignored the Council’s traditions of rotating the presidency based on region. The only region that hasn’t held the presidency is Eastern Europe, which is one reason why Danilo Turk, a former Slovenian president, and Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), finished closely behind Guterres in the vote.

The Council also ignored external pressures to elect a woman secretary-general, despite seven of the 13 candidates begin female. Well aware of this, Guterres has pledged to exercise gender equity as he moves forward with his new position.

After acting as the prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, Guterres was elected to serve as the head of the U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees. While serving in this position, Guterres repeatedly called for humanitarian action from countries with appropriate resources.

In particular, after U.N. agencies failed to meet funding goals that would provide humanitarian aid for displaced peoples in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, Guterres called for financial commitment from Western countries.

His experience leading a major U.N. institution was looked at as a huge strength in the voting process. He has promised to demonstrate “the humility that is needed to serve especially those that are most vulnerable.”

Guterres will have to face many difficult challenges as he moves forward with his new position of leadership, like maintaining and negotiating support from Russia and the U.S. and facing the impacts of the global refugee crisis.

Despite these inevitable challenges, the ambassadors of the Security Council are confident that Guterres will be able to act justly and level-headedly as the new U.N. secretary-general.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr


Ending Global Poverty

The race for the position of “top diplomat” is on. The role of the United Nations Secretary-General involves spearheading initiatives toward ending global poverty, presiding over thousands of staffers and agencies and establishing world peace.

For the first time ever, the candidates presented their vision of the U.N. to the General Assembly in New York. They took questions from the public, governments and journalists in a townhall format, breaking free from tradition.

A common theme at the General Assembly among candidates was finding political solutions to conflict and ending global poverty. Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO, said enhancing the prevention of conflict and violence through political solutions and diplomacy should be the core task of the U.N.

Vensa Pusic, former Foreign Minister of Croatia, also mentioned the inequality over scarce resources as drivers of conflict. “For all the progress that has been made, too many people have been left behind,” Pusic said, according to IRIN News. “This is morally wrong, but it is also a threat to peace and security.”

The candidates also discussed taking a U.N. approach that recognizes the links between sustainable development, peace and security, human rights and humanitarian relief.

Former Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman said that there needs to be enhanced coordination between humanitarian and development communities. Similarly, former U.N. Refugees Leader Antonio Guterres noted that the U.N. needs to “strengthen the nexus between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights policies,” IRIN news reports.

The impact of climate change was another theme among candidates. Macedonian economist Srgjan Kerim said the U.N. should be the driving force in addressing global warming. He also said developing countries are the most exposed to climate change impacts and that their special needs must be high on the Secretary-General’s agenda.

In addition, the question of funding setbacks for humanitarian assistance was addressed. Vuk Jeremic, former President of the U.N. General Assembly offered a solution. He called for a special envoy to mobilize resources to address shortfalls, with emphasis on Middle Eastern and African refugee crisis and disaster relief. Jeremic noted that this would improve coordination of humanitarian relief, support and assistance to refugees.

The U.N. Security Council will make a recommendation for the top position in the U.N. and commence informal straw polls in closed meetings. The winner will be selected in September, declared in October and begin their term January 1, 2017.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr

World Refugee Day
If the current refugees made up their own country, it would be the 26th largest in the world.

Commemorating World Refugee Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that there are currently 51.2 million asylum-seekers, internally displaced people and refugees worldwide.

The United Nations said that over 50 million people, an increase of six million from previous years, were forced from their homes by the end of 2013, which surpasses World War II peak numbers. Tensions in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Syria have caused the increase, but the figure is expected to rise even further as the situation in Iraq worsens.

Currently, there are 1.2 million people searching for asylum, 33.3 million internally displaced people and 16.7 million refugees worldwide. About half of these uprooted people are children.

This has put much pressure on UNHCR and other efforts to provide refugees with food, education and healthcare. During 2013, conflict and violence drove about 32,200 people every day out of their homes, as opposed to 14,200 in 2011 and 23,400 in 2012.

In a report on the refugee crisis, UNHCR stressed the problems that host countries are having dealing with the flood of refugees. 86 percent of refugees worldwide find shelter in developing countries, which causes increased strain on those countries’ resources.

Syria was once the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country. The current Syrian conflict has moved it to the second largest refugee-producing country. Neighbors of Syria, such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, are now facing problems on how to deal with this influx of refugees. Jordan, which has been receiving up to a thousand refugees a day, has been attempting to decelerate the wave of refugees across its border, with little luck.

The current crisis in Iraq is also a major problem. UNICEF recently raised Iraq’s crisis to a level three humanitarian disaster, the most severe label. U.N. officials said they were rushing to prepare for the projected 1.5 million displaced people. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stated that humanitarians can only do so much, and solutions lie within political systems.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” he said. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

— Colleen Moore

Sources: Kuwait Times
Photo: Flickr

The devastating Syrian refugee crisis has brought to the forefront the plight of millions of refugees around the world.  It is estimated that today there are 10.5 million refugees globally, nearly half of whom are children. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres has noted that in 2013 alone, over two million refugees were registered, a record number not seen in 20 years.

In response to the dire conditions faced in refugee camps, the Swedish megastore IKEA, most popular for its range of modern and ready-to-assemble furniture and home accessories, recently launched their ‘Brighter Lives for Refugees’ Campaign, where they will donate one euro (roughly $1.38) to UNHCR for each LED light bulb sold in IKEA stores between February 3 and March 29, 2014.

Funds raised through the Brighter Lives for Refugees Campaign will provide a variety of renewable energy technologies to hundreds of thousands of refugees in Jordan, Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia.  Such technologies include solar streetlights, indoor solar lanterns, and fuel-efficient cooking stoves.

It is estimated that a refugee family will spend, on average, 12 years in a camp. This would make it more like a home rather than a temporary refuge.  Life in a camp usually stops when the sun goes down, making even the simplest activities a dangerous endeavor.  The goal of providing lighting and renewable energy technologies is to make camp life more humane, where using the toilet, collecting water or working inside the home is no longer an impossible feat.

It is important to take note of the IKEA campaign because it does not simply seek to provide temporary assistance to refugees.  The idea behind providing sustainable lighting is to transform the refugees’ quality of life, thereby allowing them to be active forces, rather than passive receivers, in improving their lives.  The Brighter Lives for Refugees Campaign website lists a number of positive effects that access to lighting will have on quality of life for refugees:

  • Improving safety by reducing the risk of crime
  • Improving results in school by allowing children more time to study after sundown
  • Enhancing camaraderie by enabling community gatherings and social activities
  • Allowing for the continuation of income-generating activities after sundown
  • Allowing refugees to keep their small shops open after sundown and earn a sustainable income

The IKEA Foundation has been partnering with UNHCR since 2010 to address the fundamental needs of children, including shelter, care, and education.  While the Foundation has committed 73 million euros ($100.448 million) to support UNHCR activities, it has also supported dozens of other organizations, donating 82 million euros ($112.832 million) in 2012 alone.

Rifk Ebeid

Sources: IKEA Foundation, UNHCR, IKEA, AbuDhabi Week, IKEA Family Live Magazine
Photo: Humanosphere

The Zaatari refugee camp near the border of Jordan and Syria has become Jordan’s fourth largest city as people flee from the violence of Syria’s ongoing civil war. The war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, is entering its third year and has displaced more than 3 million Syrians. Zaatari refugee camp is now the second biggest refugee camp in the world and is home to roughly 200,000 people. The camp has taken in about 1,500 people each day, but Jordanian officials worry that a continuous influx of people will put even more of a strain on their already shaky economy. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry estimates that one million Syrians have taken refuge in Jordan over the course of the war, and Jordan’s population hovers at only 6 million people.

Though Zaatari provides refuge from the violence in Syria, it is hardly a safe location for its residents. 75 percent of them are women and children, and United Nations workers admit that women are frequently attacked at night. The camp does offer medical care and schooling to its occupants, but its resources are scarce and most go without these services. Zaatari is only equipped to school 5,000 children, so most go without an education.

The U.N. has less than 30 percent of the funding it needs to keep Zaatari and other nearby camps running, and Jordan may soon be forced to close its borders if the number of refugees reaches the U.N.’s projection of three million refugees in 2013 alone.

According to U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres, the Syrian war is a severe threat to national security in the Middle East that could have profound international implications. While the U.S. has contributed $385 million to help Syrian refugees, offering more financial support than any other country, Guterres stresses that the U.S. and other powerful countries must contribute more if they wish to avoid one of the biggest humanitarian and national security crises of our time.

– Katie Bandera
Source: CBS News, Yahoo! News
Photo: Pulitzer Center